Informal Feminism

{May 29, 2011}   Gender Roles and Toys

My friend turned me onto a YouTube artist this week that is called gender neutralizer. He covers popular songs but reworks them to question normative concepts of gender, which I found really interesting and is what I want to talk a little bit about this week. Our society is far from a gender neutral society, it is clearly defined in terms of girls and boys or men and women. These concepts of gender though can be very harmful to many people though and need to be challenge and deconstructed.

In our society girls are raised to believe that they should like certain things to the exclusion of others. When you go to most toy stores there is a clearly defined female section which is usually covered in hot pink. This area displays toys that are clearly catering to specific gender roles fashion dolls, dollhouses and kitchen sets abound. The messages that little girls receive in these areas are ones that speak to a predefined skill set, little girls should learn to look pretty, cook, clean and keep house. Boys on the other hand get a blue side of the store which is usually filled with action figures, cars, weapons and tools. Once again the gender message is clear boys are going to grow up to become fighters or workers and should be prepared to bring home the bacon. I always find it a bit of a shock to go into a toy store and find that the gender divide still exists so clearly. It can be difficult for kids to negotiate these gender roles especially if they feel like they are outside these specific gender roles.

These gender divides are detrimental because they are exclusive. The blue section is meant for boys and the pink section is meant for girls. What if you are a boy who wants to play with the girls toys, then you are made fun of. If you are a girl who prefers boys’ toys then you are a tomboy. What if you are a child who doesn’t belong to either section and you are not sure which to choose. What if you are confused by your gender, then pushing certain toys and ideals on the child can be hard for them to understand. These clear divides in the way that we deal with gender identity is problematic because it doesn’t allow for the child to be able to express themselves how they want but gives them a certain area/form they should be express themselves in.

Now I don’t want to be misunderstood, so I will tell you now that I played with Barbie’s and girls toys and loved pink my whole childhood. I could wait to rip open the latest Barbie and get right to brushing her hair and changing her clothes and making her play with all the other Barbie’s I owned. You might say, well you still turned out good and you speak your mind and try not to be limited by gender roles. That is not the issue, it is that these toys are meant to define if you are male or female and if you are not sure which one you want to be then you are made fun of. These gender areas of childhood can be very hurtful for children who have to cope with being in the middle. Our society defines gender in two ways Male and Female but from everything I have learned there are far more then two genders. So what I would love to see is repaint the sections and break them down by toy and not by gender, give the children the room to choose what they want to play with based on their likes and not their gender.


Beth says:

I actually did a project in sociology where I went to couple different toy departments to try and determine how many toys were “gender neutral” as in not meant ‘just for boys’ or ‘just for girls.’ I was pretty shocked at how few options there were. Even though I played with lots of different toys as a child I still remember being aware of that distinction between girl toys and boy toys… If we only offer children one of two narrowly defined gender categories it’s like we’re trying to indoctrinate them into these strictly defined gender roles almost from birth. I find it very creepy and I really hope it changes. And I respect you for keepin it real and putting it out there 🙂

I’ll never forget when I was a kid and my mom lost it on a McDonalds drive thru cashier because she asked if I wanted a “girl toy” or a “boy toy” with my happy meal instead of asking if I wanted barbie or batman.

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